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Putin in China: The Russian-Chinese Alliance

Putin’s meetings with the Chinese leadership in Beijing and Tashkent consolidate the most powerful alliance in the world today.

Alexander Mercouris

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Though it has received minimal attention in the West, last week Putin completed his 15th visit to China where he held intensive talks with the Chinese leadership led by Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

This came directly after Putin met Xi Jinping at the immediately preceding Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Tashkent.  According to Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, whom Putin also met in Beijing, Xi Jinping has met Putin more often than he has met any other foreign leader.

On the Russian side the talks between Putin and the Chinese leadership in Beijing did not involve Putin alone.  Putin’s meeting with Xi Jinping in Beijing started as a one-to-one meeting with just the two leaders and their interpreters present.  It was then expanded to include top officials and ministers of both the Russian and Chinese governments.

Whilst we do not know the details of the topics which were discussed – and Putin and Xi Jinping avoided discussing them in open press conferences – the information we have suggests that the talks were very detailed and very wide-ranging:

“Documents signed include a declaration between Russia and China on raising the role of international law, intergovernmental agreements on cooperation on joint implementation of a programme to develop, produce, commercialise and organise after-sales service of a wide-bodied, long-haul plane and development of further models based on this plane, cooperation on a programme to build a heavy helicopter, cooperation on technology protection measures related to work together on exploring and using outer space for peaceful purposes and developing and operating launch systems and ground-based space infrastructure, and an appendix to an agreement on cooperation on building a nuclear power plant on Chinese territory and on Russia according China a state loan.

Other agreements concern coordination of joint efforts within international groups and organisations, cooperation in the forestry sector, innovation sector, securities market regulation, insurance, cooperation on localising production of high-speed rolling stock and railway equipment on Russian territory, cooperation in the oil and gas sector, cooperation between the two countries’ media outlets, and sports sector cooperation.

Also signed was a joint declaration between the Eurasian Economic Union Commission and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce on the official start of talks on an agreement on trade and economic cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union and the People’s Republic of China.”

The last paragraph makes clear that the Chinese not only received Putin as the President of Russia.  They also received him as the de facto leader of the Eurasian Economic Union, an organisation the Western media never reports about and which as far as the Western media is concerned might as well not exist.

The official communiques say nothing about defence and foreign policy discussions but we can sure they took place and that the full range of international relations – Ukraine, Syria, North Korea, the South China Sea, arms control, defence etc – were discussed, as were the various projects for building a new global financial architecture independent of the US and the dollar, which the Chinese especially are pressing ahead with.  Almost certainly the reason why the Russian and Chinese leaders did not engage with the international media following their discussions is because they did not want to be asked questions about the discussions they had on these topics.

I do not know of cooperation between any two other Great Powers in the world today which is so close.  Contrary to what is often said, cooperation between Russia and China today at a political and military-strategic level is very much closer today than it was in the days of their formal alliance in the 1950s, when meetings between Soviet and Chinese leaders were infrequent and frequently tense. 

Whilst economic and technological relations between the two countries are still lagging, they are – as the communiques show – developing rapidly.  By way of example and contrary to some media claims, the two countries are forging ahead with their pipeline projects, which are in active construction.  Claims by some Western and pro-Western Russian liberal commentators that they will never be built are wishful thinking.

Beyond these bilateral questions there are the greater plans which Putin discussed at SPIEF 2016 for the Eurasian Economic Union and China to conclude free trade agreements with each other, with Russia and China working to merge the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and the Chinese-led Silk Road Project into a single whole as part of their joint “Greater Eurasia” project in which they ultimately want to involve Europe too.

All this is only the visible tip of the iceberg of Russian-Chinese relations.  As I have discussed previously, there are certain to be scores of secret agreements between the Chinese and the Russians we know nothing about: to share intelligence (including for example signals intelligence and data from satellites) and to coordinate foreign policy and for defence cooperation including technology sharing.  We know for example that the Russians and the Chinese have representatives at each others’ command headquarters and that recently they carried out in Moscow a joint command exercise involving joint operation of their respective anti-ballistic missile defences, something the US would never do at such a level with any of its allies.

Though we know little about some of these agreements, it is possible to make educated guesses about some of them.  In terms of defence technology cooperation the Chinese for example are known to rely heavily on Russian liquid fuel technology for their rocket engines both for their ballistic missiles and for their space programme, which in general appears to rely heavily on Russian technology, even for design of space vehicles.  As it happens, the information from the latest summit meeting in Beijing suggests that the Russians and the Chinese could even be taking their first steps towards merging their respective space programmes.  The Chinese also seem to depend heavily on the Russians for their gas turbine technology including for their military aircraft engines.  In fact there are rumours – always denied – that Chinese military aircraft projects draw heavily on Russian technical advice.  The Russians for their part are said to rely on the Chinese increasingly for electronic subcomponents for some of their systems and there are persistent rumours – also always denied – that they have looked to the Chinese for help with development of their aerial drones.

In foreign policy coordination it seems fairly clear that there are agreements for Russia to take the lead in the Syrian conflict and for China to take the lead in any matter concerning North Korea, with the two countries however always supporting each other’s positions in each conflict. 

It is a certainty – and Putin has recently confirmed as much – that the Russians and the Chinese also talk to each continuously about all other international questions and take care to coordinate their positions in respect of them.  They have certainly done so for example in relation to such questions as the Ukrainian conflict (where China has quietly recognised Crimea as a part of Russia), the Iranian nuclear agreement, the conflict between China and the US in the South China Sea (where Russia backs China) and China’s claim for unification with Taiwan (ditto).

Importantly, we do not know the identities of the individuals in the Russian and Chinese governments who on a day to day basis conduct these contacts, though obviously the embassies of the two countries in each others’ capitals are heavily involved.  However it is striking that the two countries’ foreign ministers – Sergey Lavrov and Wang Yi – do not appear to be involved.  They scarcely ever meet with each other or visit each other’s countries, which suggests that the two countries’ leaderships have, quite intentionally, assigned them the task of dealing with relations with third countries and not with anything to do with the relationship Russia and China have forged with each other.  Apparently this is dealt with at a different and more senior level.

The best guess is that in the Russian case the official who has day to day management of Russia’s relations with China is Sergey Ivanov, Putin’s powerful Chief of Staff and head of Russia’s Presidential Administration, who appears to have frequent meetings with Chinese officials.

In all essentials this is an extremely close alliance between two Great Powers.  It is sometimes said that because it is not underpinned by ideology but rests purely on self-interest that somehow makes it brittle.  My own view on the contrary is that the fact that the alliance is based purely on self-interest and not on ideology or sentiment – so that the two allies have no illusions about each other – makes it deeper and stronger.

The alliance does however have one special feature which in the modern world makes it unique.  Most countries when they forge alliances with other countries go out of their way to publicise the fact. By contrast the reason why the alliance between Russia and China is not widely recognised for what it is, is because of the extraordinary lengths to which both Great Powers go to deny the fact of its existence. 

The reason for this is not difficult to see.  Alliances tend to get defined by their enemies.  The Russian-Chinese alliance is clearly pitted against the other great alliance system of the modern world: that of the US and its allies.  Both the Russians and the Chinese however want to maintain at least for the moment the fiction that they and the US and its allies are not enemies or even adversaries but are “partners”.  Though with the crises in Ukraine and the South Sea China Sea this fiction is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain, it remains important to both the Russians and the Chinese to preserve it so that they can maintain a political dialogue not just with the US but also with the US’s allies, especially Germany and Japan, as well as a place in the international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF which have been historically dominated by the US. 

It is precisely for this reason that neocon hardliners in the US like Senator McCain, who want to preserve the US’s geostrategic dominance, want on the contrary to tear down all pretences and to define Russia and China openly and clearly as the US’s enemies.  That way they hope to reimpose tighter block discipline within the Western alliance and end any prospect of US allies becoming involved in Russian and Chinese projects like China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or the Russian/Chinese  “Greater Eurasia” and Silk Road projects.  They also hope that way to minimise or even exclude Russian and Chinese influence from US dominated international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank.  Of course defining China as a US enemy also plays into the hands of protectionists in the US like Donald Trump, who would like to use that as an excuse to close the US market to Chinese goods.

Beyond the very complex relations Russia and China have with the West – which for the moment it is in their interest to keep complex – the Russians and the Chinese also have to consider the effect the public acknowledgement of their alliance would have on third powers such as India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Iran, which have had a history of conflicts with either Russia or China. By concealing the fact of their alliance the Russians and the Chinese can each preserve their historic relations with old friends – in Russia’s case with India, South Korea and Vietnam, in China’s case with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran – which might otherwise become alarmed at the public announcement that a country they had always assumed was a friend had now formally become an ally of a former foe with whom they might still have a prickly relationship.

Last but not least, concealing the fact of their alliance for the Russians and the Chinese comes with the added dividend that influential US analysts and commentators such as former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul can remain in denial about it.  A Russian-Chinese alliance being for such people a possibility too horrible to contemplate, the fact the Russians and the Chinese don’t announce it means that such people can continue to deny it even as evidence for it piles up around them.  That suits the Russians and the Chinese perfectly, since it ensures that these people won’t try to mobilise US opinion against them.

The result is that though Russian and Chinese officials occasionally let slip that they see each other as allies – as Putin did the other day – in general they try to conceal the fact, pretending that their countries are not formal allies at all even though that is in fact precisely what they are.  Thus in place of “alliance” they prefer to use the euphemism of “strategic partnership” or increasingly “grand strategic partnership” to describe their relationship. 

It is also partly to conceal the fact of their alliance that the Russians and the Chinese have weaved a complex web of organisations around their alliance of which the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the BRICS are just two.  Such organisations enable the Russians and the Chinese to create institutions like the BRICS Bank or the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as multilateral ventures which are not targeted at the West, as it would not be possible for them to do if they were openly allied to each other. 

These organisations also enable the Russians and the Chinese to engage countries like Brazil, India, Iran and Pakistan in a friendly way, treating them as equal partners, as they seek to extend the influence of their alliance into places like southern Africa and Latin America where it might not otherwise reach.

It is a common trope that the world today is moving from a unipolar world dominated by one superpower – the US – towards a multipolar world, where there will be a more complex interchange between rival centres of power. 

Whilst with the rise of India I think that is basically true, I do not think the terms unipolar or multipolar properly describe the world as it is now.  Rather I think the world today is basically bipolar, just as it was during the Cold War, with two great international alliances facing off against each other just as they did then.  Whereas during the Cold War it was the US and the Western alliance which faced off against the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies, today it is the US and the Western alliance versus the Eurasian alliance that has crystallised around Russia and China, which also includes certain Central Asian states that were formerly part of the USSR and which may shortly also include Iran. 

That the duel between these two great alliances, unlike the Cold War, is being conducted mainly in the shadows and without the ideological dimension that marked the Cold War does not mean it is any less real.  On the contrary it is not only real but is taking place all the time and as it is happening it is reshaping our world.

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Whose Money Stoked Religious Strife in Ukraine – and Who Tried to Steal It?

Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine?

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via Strategic Culture:


Was $25 million in American tax dollars allocated for a payoff to stir up religious turmoil and violence in Ukraine? Did Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (unsuccessfully) attempt to divert most of it into his own pocket?

Last month the worldwide Orthodox Christian communion was plunged into crisis by the decision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Constantinople to recognize as legitimate schismatic pseudo-bishops anathematized by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In so doing not only has Patriarch Bartholomew besmirched the global witness of Orthodoxy’s two-millennia old Apostolic faith, he has set the stage for religious strife in Ukraine and fratricidal violence – which has already begun.

Starting in July, when few were paying attention, this analyst warned about the impending dispute and how it facilitated the anti-Christian moral agenda of certain marginal “Orthodox” voices like “Orthodoxy in Dialogue,” Fordham University’s “Orthodox Christian Studies Center,” and The Wheel. These “self-professed teachers presume to challenge the moral teachings of the faith” (in the words of Fr. John Parker) and “prowl around, wolves in sheep’s clothing, forming and shaping false ideas about the reality of our life in Christ.” Unsurprisingly such groups have embraced Constantinople’s neopapal self-aggrandizement and support for the Ukrainian schismatics.

No one – and certainly not this analyst – would accuse Patriarch Bartholomew, most Ukrainian politicians, or even the Ukrainian schismatics of sympathizing with advocacy of such anti-Orthodox values. And yet these advocates know they cannot advance their goals if the conciliar and traditional structure of Orthodoxy remains intact. Thus they welcome efforts by Constantinople to centralize power while throwing the Church into discord, especially the Russian Church, which is vilified in some Western circles precisely because it is a global beacon of traditional Christian moral witness.

This aspect points to another reason for Western governments to support Ukrainian autocephaly as a spiritual offensive against Russia and Orthodoxy. The post-Maidan leadership harp on the “European choice” the people of Ukraine supposedly made in 2014, but they soft-pedal the accompanying moral baggage the West demands, symbolized by “gay” marches organized over Christian objections in Orthodox cities like AthensBelgradeBucharestKievOdessaPodgoricaSofia, and Tbilisi. Even under the Trump administration, the US is in lockstep with our European Union friends in pressuring countries liberated from communism to adopt such nihilistic “democratic, European values.”

Perhaps even more important to its initiators, the row over Ukraine aims to break what they see as the “soft power” of the Russian Federation, of which the Orthodox Church is the spiritual heart and soul. As explained by Valeria Z. Nollan, professor emerita of Russian Studies at Rhodes College:

‘The real goal of the quest for autocephaly [i.e., complete self-governing status independent of the Moscow Patriarchate] of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is a de facto coup: a political coup already took place in 2014, poisoning the relations between western Ukraine and Russia, and thus another type of coup – a religious one – similarly seeks to undermine the canonical relationship between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Moscow.’

In furthering these twin objectives (morally, the degrading of Orthodox Christianity; politically, undermining the Russian state as Orthodoxy’s powerful traditional protector) it is increasingly clear that the United States government – and specifically the Department of State – has become a hands-on fomenter of conflict. After a short period of appropriately declaring that “any decision on autocephaly is an internal [Orthodox] church matter,” the Department within days reversed its position and issued a formal statement (in the name of Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, but clearly drafted by the European bureau) that skirted a direct call for autocephaly but gave the unmistakable impression of such backing. This is exactly how it was reported in the media, for example, “US backs Ukrainian Church bid for autocephaly.” Finally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed in personally with his own endorsement as did the US Reichskommissar for UkraineKurt Volker.

The Threat…

There soon became reason to believe that the State Department’s involvement was not limited to exhortations. As reported by this analyst in October, according to an unconfirmed report originating with the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (an autonomous New York-based jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate), in July of this year State Department officials (possibly including Secretary Pompeo personally) warned the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (also based in New York but part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) that the US government was aware of the misappropriation of a large amount of money, about $10 million, from estimated $37 million raised from believers for the construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York. The State Department warning also reportedly noted that federal prosecutors have documentary evidence confirming the withdrawal of these funds abroad on the orders of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It was suggested that Secretary Pompeo would “close his eyes” to this theft in exchange for movement by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in favor of Ukrainian autocephaly, which helped set Patriarch Bartholomew on his current course.

[Further details on the St. Nicholas scandal are available here, but in summary: Only one place of worship of any faith was destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attack in New York and only one building not part of the World Trade Center complex was completely destroyed. That was St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a small urban parish church established at the end of World War I and dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who is very popular with Greeks as the patron of sailors. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, and following a lengthy legal battle with the Port Authority, which opposed rebuilding the church, in 2011 the Greek Archdiocese launched an extensive campaign to raise funds for a brilliant innovative design by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava based on traditional Byzantine forms. Wealthy donors and those of modest means alike enthusiastically contributed millions to the effort. Then – poof! In December 2017, suddenly all construction was halted for lack of funds and remains stalled to this day. Resumption would require having an estimated $2 million on hand. Despite the Archdiocese’s calling in a major accounting firm to conduct an audit, there’s been no clear answer to what happened to the money. Both the US Attorney and New York state authorities are investigating.]

This is where things get back to Ukraine. If the State Department wanted to find the right button to push to spur Patriarch Bartholomew to move on the question of autocephaly, the Greek Archdiocese in the US is it. Let’s keep in mind that in his home country, Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has virtually no local flock – only a few hundred mostly elderly Greeks left huddled in Istanbul’s Phanar district. (Sometimes the Patriarchate is referred to simply as “the Phanar,” much as “the Vatican” is shorthand for the Roman Catholic papacy.) Whatever funds the Patriarchate derives from other sources (the Greek government, the Roman Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches), the Phanar’s financial lifeline is the ethnic Greek community (including this analyst) in what is still quaintly called the “Diaspora” in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand. And of these, the biggest cash cow is the Greek-Americans.

That’s why, when Patriarch Bartholomew issued a call in 2016 for what was billed as an Orthodox “Eighth Ecumenical Council” (the first one since the year 787!), the funds largely came from America, to the tune of up to $8 million according to the same confidential source as will be noted below. Intended by some as a modernizing Orthodox “Vatican II,” the event was doomed to failure by a boycott organized by Moscow over what the latter saw as Patriarch Bartholomew’s adopting papal or even imperial prerogatives – now sadly coming to bear in Ukraine.

…and the Payoff

On top of the foregoing, it now appears that the State Department’s direct hand in this sordid business may not have consisted solely of wielding the “stick” of legal threat: there’s reason to believe there was a “carrot” too. It very recently came to the attention of this analyst, via an unsolicited, confidential source in the Greek Archdiocese in New York, that a payment of $25 million in US government money was made to Constantinople to encourage Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on Ukraine.

The source for this confidential report was unaware of earlier media reports that the same figure – $25 million – was paid by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to the Phanar as an incentive for Patriarch Bartholomew to move forward on creating an independent Ukrainian church. Moreover, Poroshenko evidently tried to shortchange the payment:

‘Peter [Petro] Poroshenko — the president of Ukraine — was obligated to return $15 million US dollars to the Patriarch of Constantinople, which he had appropriated for himself.

‘As reported by Izvestia, this occurred after the story about Bartholomew’s bribe and a “vanishing” large sum designated for the creation of a Unified Local Orthodox Church in Ukraine surfaced in the mass media.

‘As reported, on the eve of Poroshenko’s visit in Istanbul, a few wealthy people of Ukraine “chipped in” in order to hasten the process of creating a Unified Local Orthodox Church. About $25 million was collected. They were supposed to go to the award ceremony for Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople for the issuing of a tomos of autocephaly. [A tomos is a small book containing a formal announcement.] However, in the words of people close to the backer, during the visit on April 9, Poroshenko handed over only $10 million.

‘As a result, having learned of the deal, Bartholomew cancelled the participation of the delegation of the Phanar – the residence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in the celebration of the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia on July 27 in Kiev.

‘”Such a decision from Bartholomew’s side was nothing other than a strong ultimatum to Poroshenko to return the stolen money. Of course, in order to not lose his face in light of the stark revelations of the creation of the tomos of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Peter Alexeevich [Poroshenko] had to just return those $15 million for the needs of Constantinople,” a trusted source explained to reporters.

‘For preliminary information, only after receiving the remaining sum, did Bartholomew finally give his consent to sending a delegation of the Phanar to Kiev … ‘

Now, it’s possible that the two identical figures of $25 million refer to two different pots of money (a cool $50 million!) but that seems unlikely. It’s more probable the reports refer to the same sum as viewed from the sending side (the State Department, the Greek Archdiocese) and the delivery side (Poroshenko, Constantinople).

Lending credibility to the confidential information from New York and pointing to the probability that it refers to the same payment that Poroshenko reportedly sought to raid for himself are the following observations:

  • When Poroshenko generously offered Patriarch Bartholomew $10 million, the latter was aware that the full amount was $25 million and demanded the $15 million Poroshenko had held back. How did the Patriarch know that, unless he was informed via New York of the full sum?
  • If the earlier-reported $25 million was really collected from “a few wealthy people of Ukraine” who “chipped in,” given the cutthroat nature of disputes among Ukrainian oligarchs would Poroshenko (an oligarch in his own right) have risked trying to shortchange the payment? Why has not even one such Ukrainian donor been identified?
  • Without going into all the details, the Phanar and the Greek Archdiocese have a long relationship with US administrations of both parties going back at least to the Truman administration, encompassing some decidedly unattractive episodes. In such a history, a mere bribe for a geopolitical shot against Moscow would hardly be a first instance or the worst.

As one of this analyst’s Greek-American connections puts it: “It’s easy to comprehend the Patriarchate bowing to the pressure of State Dept. blackmail… not overly savory, but understandable. However, it’s another thing altogether if Kiev truly “purchased” their autocephalous status from an all too willing Patriarchate … which would relegate the Patriarch to ‘salesman’ status and leave the faithful wondering what else might be offered to the highest bidder the next time it became convenient to hold a Patriarchal ‘fire sale’ at the Phanar?!”

To add insult to injury, you’d think Constantinople at least could pay back some of the $7-8 million wasted on the Crete 2016 debacle to restart the St. Nicholas project in New York. Evidently the Phanar has better things to spend it on, like the demonstrative environmentalism of “the Green Patriarch” and, together with Pope Francis, welcoming Muslim migrants to Europe through Greece. Of course maybe there’s no need to worry, as the Ukraine “sale” was consistent with Constantinople’s papal ambitions, an uncanonical claim to “universal” status, and misuse of incarnational language and adoption of a breathtakingly arrogant tone that would cause even the most ultramontane proponent of the Rome’s supremacy to blush.

Finally, it seems that, for the time being at least, Constantinople doesn’t intend to create an independent Ukrainian church but rather an autonomous church under its own authority. It’s unclear whether or not Poroshenko or the State Department, in such event, would believe they had gotten their money’s worth. Perhaps they would. After all, the issue here is less what is appropriate for Ukraine than what strikes at Russia and injures the worldwide Christian witness of the Orthodox Church. To that end, it doesn’t matter whether the new illegal body is Constantinopolitan or Kievan, just so long as it isn’t a “Moskal church” linked to Russia.

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EU Army: Fact or Fiction? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda discuss the possibility, and feasibility, of putting together an EU army, as French President Macron is now boasting about.

Will an EU Army replace, rival, or fold into NATO? How will the US respond to Europe’s military initiative, and how will Russia deal an EU army?

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Via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


“Insulting” – that’s how US President Donald Trump sharply reacted to the idea of a “real European army” proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

And it was how Macron rationalized the need for an independent military force for Europe that perhaps most irked the American leader.

Speaking on a tour of World War I battlefields in northern France last week, Macron said that Europe needed to defend itself from “China, Russia and even the United States of America”.

It was a pretty extraordinary choice of words by the French leader. To frame the US among an array of perceived foreign enemy powers was a devastating blow to the concept of a much-vaunted transatlantic alliance.

Since the Second World War, ending 1945, the concept of an American-European alliance has been the bedrock of a supposed inviolable, mutual defense pact. That nearly seven-decade alliance is now being questioned more than ever.

Macron’s call for a European army was further backed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who also pointedly said this week that Europe can no longer rely on the US for its defense.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the proposal for Europe to form its own military organization, independent from Washington. No doubt, Moscow views such a development as augmenting a move towards a multipolar international order, which Russia and China, among others, have been advocating in opposition to American ambitions of unipolar dominance.

When Trump arrived in Paris last weekend along with dozens of other world leaders, including Putin, to commemorate the centennial anniversary marking the end of World War I, there was a notable frostiness between Macron and the American president. Only a few months ago, Macron and Trump had appeared the best of friends in what some observers referred to as a “bromance”.

During the Paris events, Macron sought to placate Trump by saying that the European army proposal would have a “complementary” role to the US-led NATO military alliance. However, their relationship further soured when Macron later delivered a speech in which he made a veiled rebuke of Trump’s “nationalist” politics.

Days later, on returning to Washington, Trump then fired off a fusillade of angry tweets attacking Macron in very personal terms over a range of issues, including “unfair” economic trade and France’s alleged ungrateful attitude towards the US liberation of Paris from Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

The rift between the US and Europe has been brewing even before Trump’s presidency. For years, Washington has been carping that the Europeans need to spend more on military defense, claiming that the US has been shouldering the burden for too long. Trump has taken the griping to a new, higher level. Recall that he has threatened to pull out of NATO because the Europeans were “free loading” on American “protection”.

The irony is that now the French and German leaders are talking about setting up their own military defenses, Trump has blown a fuse.

Evidently, the American contention is not about “burden sharing” of defense. If Washington was genuinely aggrieved about supposedly defending Europe at too much of its own expense, then Trump, one would think, would be only too glad to hear that the Europeans were at last making their own military arrangements, and taking the burden off Washington.

This gets to the heart of the matter about the real purpose of NATO and presence of tens of thousands of US troops stationed in bases across Europe since 1945. American military presence in Europe is not about “protecting” its supposed allies. It is, and always has been, about projecting American power over Europe. In reality, American troops and bases in Europe are more functioning as an occupying force, keeping the Europeans in line with Washington’s strategic objectives of hegemony over the continent.

Macron and Merkel’s vision of a European army is probably fanciful anyway, without any real prospect of materializing. How such a new defense arrangement would work independently from the 29-member NATO alliance led by the US seems unwieldy and impractical.

But the latest tensions between Washington and European leaders over military organization demonstrate the real nature of America’s relationship to Europe. It is about domination by Washington over Europe and has little to do with partnership and protection.

When Trump and previous US presidents have urged greater military spending by Europe the ulterior agenda is for Europeans to pay more to underpin American military presence, not for Europeans to find their own independent defense arrangement.

Tensions in the transatlantic axis seem to be coming to a head, heightened by Trump’s nationalistic “America First” policy. Rivalries are sharpening over trade, US sanctions on Iran, Trump’s threats against European energy plans with Russia, the Paris Climate Accord, and squabbling over NATO expenditures.

There is nothing progressive about Macron or Merkel’s call for a European army. It is more to do with France and Germany wanting to assert themselves as great powers and to shake off American tutelage out of frustration with Trump’s domineering petulance.

Only last week, Macron caused controversy when he praised French military general Philippe Pétain who collaborated with Nazi Germany as leader of Vichy France (1940-44). Macron wants a European army to satisfy his own nationalistic ambitions of revamping French global power. This week, he spent the night onboard a refurbished French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, from which he gave a media interview saying that being “an ally of America meant not being a vassal”. Touché!

A progressive challenge from Europe to American power would not involve setting up a new army. Instead it would involve Europeans pushing for the disbandment of NATO as an obsolete organization and for the withdrawal of US-led forces which are dangerously amassing on Russia’s border.

Nonetheless, the one positive thing to emerge from the transatlantic spat over military defenses is that it illustrates more than ever how European protection is not the real purpose of Washington’s relationship to the continent. The purpose is one of using Europe as a platform for projecting America’s power, in particular against Russia.

The recent announcement by the Trump administration that it is willing to rip up yet another nuclear arms control treaty – the INF following the ABM in 2002 – clearly shows that Washington, ultimately, has recklessly scant concern for Europe’s security with regard to a possible future war with Russia.

For Washington, despite all the chivalrous rhetoric, Europe is not a partner nor even an ally. It is a vassal. Admittedly, thousands of American troops died while bravely fighting wars in Europe. But they are distinct from the US ruling class. At bottom, Europe is merely a battlefield for American military power, just as it was in two previous world wars. One hundred years after the end of World War I, the same callous calculus for the imperial planners in Washington is at play.

European ideas for independent defense is why Washington has reacted so furiously. It’s not willing to give up its European front.

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Zuckerberg Clings To Power While Sandberg Claims Ignorance After Damaging NYT Report

The New York Times reported that Facebook hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, to smear liberal detractors as Soros operatives. 

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Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are battling backlash over an explosive investigation by the New York Times into Facebook’s mercenary damage control tactics in the wake of several major scandals.

Despite fresh calls from investors for Zuckerberg to step down in his dual role as CEO and chairman and appoint an independent director to oversee the board, the 34-year-old tech titan brushed off the suggestion during a Thursday call with journalists.

“A company with Facebook’s massive reach and influence requires robust oversight and that can only be achieved through an independent chair who is empowered to provide critical checks on company leadership,” said New York City comptroller, Scott Stringer.

Zuckerberg disagrees. “I don’t think that that specific proposal is the right way to go,” said the Facebook CEO when asked if he would consider stepping down, adding that other initiatives had been launched to “get more independence into our systems.”

The measures include creating an independent body to advise the company on decisions over whether controversial content should remain on the site.

Ultimately, he said Facebook is never going to eradicate mistakes. “We’re never going to get to the point where there are no errors,” he told reporters. “I’m trying to set up the company so that way we have our board, and we report on our financial results and do a call every quarter, but that also we have this independent oversight that is just focused on the community.” –Business Insider

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, meanwhile, is claiming ignorance – telling CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell “we absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news – that they have assured me was not happening.”

In their Wednesday exposé – the culmination of interviews with over 50 current and former company executives, lawmakers, government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members,the New York Times reported that Facebook had hired GOP PR firm, Defenders, which smeared liberal detractors as Soros operatives – and worked with a sister company to create negative propaganda about competitors Google and Apple.

Mr. Kaplan prevailed on Ms. Sandberg to promote Kevin Martin, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and fellow Bush administration veteran, to lead the company’s American lobbying efforts. Facebook also expanded its work with Definers.

On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.

The rash of news coverage was no accident: NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network stories are written by staff members at Definers or America Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to attack their clients’ enemies. –NYT

Meanwhile, Sandberg stressed that Facebook was undertaking new security measures, telling O’Donnell: “Our strategy was to shore up the security on Facebook and make major investments there,” and that the company had made significant investments in combatting fake news and foreign influence.

“It was not what I was doing nor was it the company’s strategy to deflect, to deny or to hire PR firms to do things. That’s not the strategy. And I was part of none of that. We’ve taken great steps, we’ve made huge investments. We’ve invested a ton in AI and technology and if you were following us before the election you saw those efforts pay off. We were able to take down lots of stuff over and over, over and over because we were now focused on this,” said Sandberg.

When asked if rank-and-file employees are confident in her, Sandberg replied: “Yes, I believe so.

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